What If Full Mainstream Education Is Really Not Best For My Child?

This isn’t a popular decision in the special needs community.

08/27/2016 10:35 am ET | Updated Aug 28, 2016

Inclusion is a big deal.  Parents want their children to be accepted into every setting possible.  Removing children with cognitive impairments from the general education environment sends a strong message that they don’t belong with the rest of society, and cannot hack it in an environment that doesn’t cater specifically to them.  It also demonstrates to the general population that these children are, indeed, different, and should be treated as such.  It is a strong message that we send to everyone when we fail to include our children in the typical environment.

Yet my boys with Down Syndrome are in self-contained classrooms for almost all of their educational time.

It’s not something that I take lightly.  When they were preschoolers, I had a “pie in the sky” ideal that they would be sitting in classrooms with their same grade peers, and have a 1:1 parapro, and would succeed.  They would be accepted by their peers, and would learn in the same environment as them.

But it just didn’t happen.

Alex gets frustrated in the general education environment, even with materials that are carefully adapted to his cognitive level, and teachers who demonstrate the best attitudes toward inclusion.  Every time we have tried to introduce Alex to the typical classroom environment, he recoils, shuts down, and we need to regroup and find that he learns and succeeds in the self-contained environment. Essentially, even with all of the puzzle pieces properly placed, mainstreaming has never come together for Alex even on repeated attempts.  I don’t even have a solid answer for why it doesn’t work, because from every angle it looks like we have everything in place for him to succeed.

With Ben, we have hardly tried. With Ben’s medical and developmental needs being so complex, and with excessive absences recorded each year, Ben has just landed in the self-contained classroom, where he flourishes.

This isn’t a popular decision in the special needs community.

Many people insist that the same programming works for every child, and that inclusion is the programming that should be applied universally.  After taking a step back from that ideal, I have chosen my children’s programming to fit their actual needs, not a societal standard.  Yes, I know this has implications for employability, independence, and so much more that will continue throughout their lives.  My kids are learning, growing and flourishing in ways that they haven’t in the inclusive environment.  They have real, sincere friendships with students both within and outside of the self-contained environment, and with the rest of the school. Just watch Alex walk into a choir concert, and see a crowd of young ladies descend upon him and whisk him off to hang out.

I hope to remove the stigma from the choice of anything other than inclusion, rather, encouraging parents to know their kids, work with their educators, and develop individualized plans for each student that promotes success and learning.  I want to drop a blanket approach to education, and remember that people’s needs are not so simple that a one size fits all approach will ever work, no matter how wonderful the approach sounds.  And I want parents to be guilt free about choosing something other than what their conferences and peers are insisting is the only way to educate their child.  It is difficult enough to ensure proper education for each student without the pressure to do something that your parenting experience and intuition tells you is not best for your child. If your child flourishes in a mainstream environment, I am entirely pleased for you!  Just please don’t begrudge me for not taking advantage of that option. 


Follow Alethea at Ben’s Writing, Running Mom.  


Faithography, Hilton Head Island 2014, all rights reserved
Alex and Ben